Favorite 25 Albums of 2011 So Far
Revisiting the first half of an already amazing year of music

Half of the year is over, and we’re so excited about how 2011 is shaping up that we wanted to share our favorite 25 albums of the year so far. Unlike with our year-end lists, this list was compiled with no official tally; whoever wanted to speak up about their favorite albums spoke up. Consequently, there’s no order here, just a list of albums accompanied by text taken directly from our reviews. In cases where we had no review — shame on us! — we either embedded full-album streams or wrote fresh blurbs, as in the case of the first two entries on the list. Enjoy.

 

 

EMA
Past Life Martyred Saints

[Souterrain Transmissions]

Former Gowns frontwoman Erika M. Anderson sculpts the hell out of every moment in her debut as EMA. She’s got any creative young person’s determination that art really can map one’s psychological contours. The difference is that, unlike most portentously ‘personal’ art, it’s impossible to remain on the outside of Past Life Martyred Saints. The tautology in her first murmured promise — “When you see that ship, it is the ship you can see” —seems innocuous until, halfway through the song, the grey ship actually comes, and by gum, you can almost see it sailing out of those buzzsaw organs. It shifts from something sung about to something experienced, and the wordless message is chilling: here is the violence and proximity with which otherwise abstract or distant concepts (like aging, perhaps?) manifest for EMA. But hiss and subsuming outros aside, it’s the variety of shapes she twists her voice into that makes the album so unnervingly broad: the yodeling weave of “Coda” gives way to “Marked,” in which EMA describes her arms as “see-through plastic” — and the seams of her voice are so close to tearing that we believe her. There’s a constant tug-like déjà vu of history, of Gordon, Phair, Harvey, or Mitchell, as if she’s tying herself into a much larger narrative arc, but EMA is never content to simply tell her story. She wants her listeners there, ready to throw up on the spot alongside her.

 

 

Colin Stetson
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

[Constellation]

To say that Colin Stetson “plays” the saxophone is like saying Gilles Deleuze “wrote” philosophy. On New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, Stetson decodes the instrument from top to bottom, catching sound anywhere off its surface and sending it off into strange configurations of violence and grace. Fuck it, you won’t even know you’re listening to a sax anymore. The first track alone could be the sound of a foghorn or an angry narwhal or just a cello in the conservatory, whereas the second might be a stampede of mechanical horses or an underground rave in Mons. But fuck metaphors, too. Stetson, by carefully placing microphones all over his instrument (and some even on his own body), taps sound at the level of the molecular and uses it to shatter all standard interpretations. Each recording is full of rhythmic clatter, dizzying arpeggios, hiss, crackle, moans, screams, and wails, all disconnected from their origins, as if the entire sonic world has been deterritorilized. Indeed, as Laurie Anderson’s all-too-perfect voice intones between tracks, “What war was this? What town could this be?” The effect throughout is terrifying and thrilling, reminding you why music has been the most policed medium of culture from the Greeks on down. But New History Warfare, Vol. 2 is no schizophrenic soundfuck. In fact, it’s a sober, nearly minimalistic effort, full of sinewy lines and empty spaces. If these tracks weren’t so intense, they might be compared to Klee’s paintings, which also used simple lines and contrasts to capture otherwise unseen forces. In Stetson’s hands, the sax is no longer an expressive medium or even a madman’s toy, but an artisanal tool, a machinic assemblage, designed for catching and releasing cosmic powers. In fact, each track was recorded in one take, all its ominous sounds held together by Stetson’s own breath, a single continuous stream of life — or “pulse” — carefully manipulated through the body of the instrument, rasping and wheezing and clanging in different ways across its surfaces. This doesn’t just put the human back in the machine, but diffuses the human itself in its own sounding. In this, New History Warfare, Vol 2., rather than destroying art, shows us how it’s made and remade, shows us how it can be made in other ways. If this be warfare, it’s on the side of creation itself, gasping and grasping at the truly new. Blow, Colin, blow!

 

 

Gang Gang Dance
Eye Contact

[4AD]

“Gang Gang Dance have always been keen on crafting album-length voyages for their listeners, but this full-length follow-up to the scintillating Saint Dymphna has an even tighter trajectory. Saint Dymphna was a glorious Aladdin’s cave of sonic gems, revisiting woozy My Bloody Valentine atmospheres displaced to dancefloors here, there famously collaborating with grime boss Tinchy Stryder before he hit high rotation, just for instance. Eye Contact has many of these elements, but couches them more comfortably and consistently, cruising from alpha to omega with just a few diversionary pit-stops, barely stopping to play stylistic hopscotch across the Kaoss pads of their formidably cosmic imaginations. […] For anyone with ears tired of the sirens, the red herrings, surfing the more visible peaks of the endless ocean in search of something worth combing over, you’ll find this spacebound lighthouse a good place to put your feet up; and get up on your feet, if so inclined.” [Full Review]

 

 

Sean McCann
The Capital

[Aguirre]

"Amidst drone culture, the word 'prolific' has little meaning. With one-take improvisations the norm and cassette labels once again blossoming, releasing five-plus albums per year is far from uncommon for such musicians. So when I say that Sean McCann releases music at a Mozart-like pace, I realize that much impact is lost. But what might surprise is both how consistently excellent McCann's music is and how he manages to improve with each release. While Sean's orchestration has varied from banjo and viola to synthesizer throughout his catalog, what sets his newest material apart, especially The Capital, is how meticulously crafted the arrangements are. Although much of McCann’s work is composed, the density of The Capital is both baffling and refreshing for someone even nominally associated with a style of music that features hasty improvisations. […] While much of drone isn’t inhuman per se, McCann’s vivre found in The Capital makes most music sound sterile by comparison. The record’s humanity and joy — I’m guessing McCann’s own — is projective and uplifting. Not just an excellent record, The Capital is a testament to the euphoria of existence.” [Full Review]

 

 

Thee Oh Sees
Castlemania

[In The Red]

“Small eccentric touches are everywhere —‘Blood on the Deck’ begins with a left-in microphone check of ‘Seven, Seven, Seven!’ ‘A Wall, a Century 2’ aptly crashes into a wall of drums. ‘The Horse Was Lost’ is a pastoral string-and-woodwind passage that builds atop shuffling percussion, then simply fades out. ‘Spider Cider’ is the album’s most concise (and silly) pop song at 58 seconds, bounding in a lot like The Box Tops’ ‘The Letter.’ The familiarity peaks with a trio of 60s covers: West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s ‘I Won’t Hurt You’ (also covered by Love as Laughter on Laughter’s Fifth), The Creation’s ‘If I Stay Too Long,’ and Norma Tanega’s ‘What Are We Craving?’ The Creation cover is a gem: the band sounds like a carbon copy of the Brian Jonestown Massacre circa ‘Take It From the Man!’ Which, of course, means it sounds just like the Stones. […] But what’s really terrific about Castlemania and about Thee Oh Sees at this stage in their careers is how much fun they’re clearly having. In this case, fun is translating to a lot of ideas and a lot of records. Not all the ideas are good, and not all the records are consistent, but the goal here isn’t perfection. The records are rough and dirty because the band is rough and dirty; their albums come out quickly because they write music so quickly. A good band this prolific is a real and immediate pleasure.” [Full Review]

 

 

Death Grips
ExMilitary

[Self-Released]

 

 

Telebossa
Telebossa

[Staubgold]

“…Brazil has a proud history of experimental post-punk (and the combination of Brazilian traditions and minimal electronica can’t help but call to mind the underappreciated Antena), but this is an album that engages more with the experimental spirit of that movement (if such it was) than with a revival of its sounds — for which we should be thankful! We see the apparition of post-punk and minimal wave most particularly in the emotional tenor of the album. The classic, fatalist saudade is here in spades, but rather than the warmer tones of the classic Brazilian artists, it’s infused with something of the spirit of the Berlin of Lou Reed, a glacial quality that does not preclude emotion, but subsumes it. In Mello’s elusive vocals, plaintive and rough by turn, it is as if the absence of the longed-for object has been accepted, leaving an apparent emotional void — as ‘Amoroso’ has it, ‘Nem a saudade ficou’ (loosely, ‘not even saudade remained’) — but a void in the depths of which, beyond sight, contradictory currents of resignation and desire still run. ‘Blame it on the bossa nova’ trips off the tongue easily, we take it for granted — but Telebossa would turn the phrase on itself, to ask: Blame what, exactly, and how is it ever possible to know that we know?” [Full Review]

 

 

SebastiAn
Total

[Ed Banger]

“Even though SebastiAn’s many experiments here all check out, the brightest highlights are the tracks that stick closest to his signature sound: ‘Fried,’ a massacre that unfolds like a Rubik’s Cube; ‘Tetra,’ a classically inspired twining of Middle Eastern trills and Daft Punk harmonics, as assisted by Justice’s Gaspard Augé; ‘Kindercut,’ a fiercely developed version of a filter-heavy dream that leaked in 2008; and a slight tweak of ‘Ross Ross Ross,’ the 2006 single that first brought SebastiAn to the masses. Which actually winds up being Total’s one real flaw: most of it sounds dated, and most of it is. But that shouldn’t be a problem for listeners less concerned with blog cred than quality, and to be honest, it wouldn’t have made sense for SebastiAn’s first album to sound like anything else than his signature. The timing may be off, but Total transcends trends to be one of the year’s best dance records, and a likely cult classic in the making.” [Full Review]

 

 

Tim Hecker
Ravedeath, 1972

[Kranky]

“Hecker says he makes this music to preserve his sanity, a ‘kind of antidepressant in a practice.’ In his work, there is an insistence and grit that scuppers and reanimates other tired sounds, such as those sculpted by Stars of the Lid. This is by no mean an offense to the latter; their music is astonishing. Hecker’s work in his studio, his ‘sculptural workshop,’ and the work of any such artists at the bleeding edges of sound, sometimes comes across as anemic or a touch too lazy. But perhaps hypothermic is a better description; there’s a sense clinging to the beautiful barbs of Hecker and Ben Frost, stately seers Stars of the Lid, and these groups’ peers that their music sustains a concern with staticity — here, obviously, death as a figure — the blue lips of music. Through this concern runs an attempt to navigate an impasse, to thus revivify the body of music. Funnily enough, a lot of this good work happens in Iceland, as if in this cryogenic clime there lived the chance for some kind of thaw and springtide understanding, if not the arrogance of a suggested cure, for music’s death, its long and unstirring — incredibly moving — persistence. Hecker’s freshest exploration of the life of rave death comes thoroughly recommended.” [Full Review]

 

 

Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat dan Singa
Suara Naga

[K]

“As before, Dionyso’s band (which features K labelmates Angelo Spencer and in-house producer Karl Blau) comes on full-force with its mutant Beefheartian blues and Indonesian extreme metal vocals. That is, it asks us to think at least about the relationship between extreme metal vocals, throat singing, Indonesian rock, scorched desert rock, free jazz, and much more besides. The album’s title apparently translates as ‘The Dragon’s Voice,’ and that seems as apt a description as any of the fiery vocalizing and blowing found in its grooves. […] Dionyso’s sense of variety and dynamics is masterful throughout, and, providing that the listener is willing to be possessed by his auditory spell, there is never a dull moment. Incantory, spellbinding, sinister, and surreal, Suara Naga is the work of a highly original mind, a man unafraid to don a demon’s mask and speak with a dragon’s tongue. Whether Malaikat dan Singa allows Arrington de Dionyso to attain the kind of truth-seeking communicative possibilities he has previously spoken of is questionable, but there is little doubt that he knows how to transfix and transform.” [Full Review]

 

 

Destroyer
Kaputt

[Merge]

“Destroyer’s new album Kaputt may be one of the most indefensible albums of all time. But it’s also a masterpiece. Shrugging off the rich cultural cache he has established for himself through nine excellent albums of ‘European blues,’ Daniel Bejar here indulges in some of the most poorly regarded pop genres of all time: smooth jazz, new age ambient, easy listening, and white disco. Think Kenny G meets Style Council. The album is full of sleazy sax riffs, plunky electronic keyboards, acid-jazz breakdowns, and empty washes of synth. Musically, it seems to emerge from some late-night hotel dance lounge in decline, where men pretend to chase women in order to chase cocaine, and women disappear into back rooms in order to disappear forever. And yet, through all this, the album is full of both beauty and intelligence. Bejar fully immerses himself in the sonic aesthetics of the 1980s to create a seamless dream vision of an America that could have — and perhaps should have — never been. He convinces you that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, that this abandoned moment, in all its decadence, holds the key. As he sings on the title track, ‘Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME, ?all sounds like a dream to me.’ In true Destroyer fashion, Bejar’s got all his references in a row, and no matter how superficial and cheap, they come together here as one gorgeous vision of pop grace.” [Full Review]

 

 

John Maus
We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves

[Ribbon/Upset the Rhythm]

“Being an academic, John Maus understands the imperative to only release bodies of work that are conceptually sound and completely actualized. With Pitiless Censors, he sought to break into a new creative period but was disappointed that it was only a ‘consummation’ or logical conclusion to the sound on his previous two widely-available albums (Songs and Love Is Real). Based on the evidence here, Maus needn’t have any reservations about the body of work that he has released into the world. Pitiless Censors is a sparkling album, a lo-fi synth pop masterpiece that manages to give endless aural delights while still being intellectually engaging, and despite having been caught at the center of a whirlpool of current movements, all of which reflect some aspect of Maus’ style, he has only cemented his identity as a singular, unimpeachable figure. When confronted with music like this, it’s impossible not to be a believer.” [Full Review]

 

 

tUnE-yArDs
w h o k i l l

[4AD]

“Garbus’ ironic refrain in ‘Killa’ to ‘Watch me now’ is oddly prophetic. NPR can’t get enough of her, in the same way we can’t take our eyes off of the hip young urbanities making high culture and going to parties amidst some of the country’s most disadvantaged populations in our urban centers. Although the shootings are a spectacle for the urban hipster (‘Gangsta’), there is another population there that is always a potential target, through no fault of their own (‘Doorstep’). ‘Riotriot’ asks, ‘Who are you for?’ Garbus wants to know if you are for anything other than being cool. ‘I’m so hip,’ she sings in ‘Killa,’ ‘I can’t take it.’ Garbus’ multiplication of voices and authentic encounter with other sounds and personas is evidence of a desire to take the attention off of herself and turn it to her surroundings, to engage in an always-risky encounter with difference. We need a What’s Going On for the current generation of post-collegiate hipsters living in our hip neighborhoods. On this album, Garbus attempts to do this in a sophisticated and admirable way, and in the very form of her music, she offers a potential solution of a sort.” [Full Review]

 

 

Demdike Stare
Tryptych

[Modern Love]

Tryptych presents a broad, focused spectrum of frightful sounds and possessed moods, clear though subtle in its assimilation of and reference to various traditions. […] One could argue that any triple LP might be strengthened by some editorial trimming, but considering that Tryptych embeds itself between the margins of that and a boxset, the mediocrity of a couple tracks (‘Quiet Sky,’ for instance) is easy to overlook. Issuing such a thorough CD document of a vinyl trilogy winds up not so much a simple change in format or an exercise in excess, but rather a telescopic glimpse into the rapidly expanding Demdike Stare universe. It’s a dark and miserable place, but one that will surely attract quite a few souls.” [Full Review]

 

 

Alvarius B
Baroque Primitiva

[Abduction]

“The fact that Baroque Primitiva, unlike bro Sir Richard Bishop’s raga/Fahey work, contains more than a kernel of Sun City Girls’ spirit is very good news — the album feels at its best like resurrection, bodes well for immortality — though fans of Alvarius B’s gnarled, Jandek-esque opi in the 90s might be a bit taken aback by the shift from jagged to horizontal. (As one might expect from such an explosively creative band, SCG were rarely capable of keeping their side-project monikers in neat manila folders; genres, approaches, and recording techniques crisscross throughout catalogs, and chronology is often the better bet.) Like the swan song, Baroque Primitiva is a thing of beauty foremost, and it’s even more content that its weirdness will glow through without burning down the whole damn house. If ‘Ben’s Radio’ felt like everything Sun City Girls could manage in a trash-compactor, ‘The Dinner Party’ feels like the opposite; its breezy lyrical syncopation (in fluent Spanish) and moonlit strumming succeeds in the so-perfect-it’s-funny school that Ween failed to nail in the twilight of their own career.” [Full Review]

 

 

Peaking Lights
936

[Not Not Fun]

“A drum machine, and the dub connotations it carries, makes all the difference for 936. Each track has the uncanny ability to drift with Indra Dunis’ lazy, ethereal vocals, yet they still feel tight, despite the long playing times. A contradiction, ‘Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)’ is as lackadaisical as the name suggests with its endless deadpan vocals, but the bass and drum machine inject enough activity to leave my feet uncertain over how active they ought to be. On ‘Birds of Paradise (Dub Version),’ Dunis contorts in a refreshing, danceable fashion against a throbbing beat while Aaron Coyes’ guitar skirts aloft. But while 936’s perpetual schizophrenia is noteworthy, it’s Peaking Lights’ songwriting that elevates 936. In fact, not since Pocahaunted’s Island Diamonds can I recall a Not Not Fun release as memorable as this one. While those tethered to NNF’s erstwhile aesthetics might find fault in the label’s current trajectory, 936’s charm is undeniable. Even the pop adverse (myself included) should marvel at Peaking Lights’ synthesis of disparate structures. Not only does this combination perfectly capture the label in 2011, but 936 is the strongest album the label has released in years.” [Full Review]

 

 

Bill Callahan
Apocalypse

[Drag City]

“If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the arc of Bill Callahan’s career, it might as well be this: there is dignity in understatement. Once a 4-track troubadour, Callahan has grown into middle age gracefully, trading in the intimacy of low fidelity for a more refined sense of self-expression. But even as his arrangements have become increasingly ornate — and his production cleaner and sharper than ever before — Callahan has retained his knack for deprecation and quiet, off-kilter observation. It should come as little surprise to any longtime followers that Apocalypse — the third studio album since abandoning the Smog moniker in favor of his given name — continues this slow march toward maturity. And, as expected, Callahan continues the transition with warmth and humor, and without even the faintest trace of self-importance.” [Full Review]

 

 

Earth
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

[Southern Lord]

“In his ‘Keeping Things Whole’, poet Mark Strand writes, ‘wherever I am/ I am what is missing.’ Like Strand, Carlson is acutely aware of the space that connects all that exits — the silences that Earth so deliberately leaves open are not empty, but are suffused with meaning, like the extreme beauty and drama of the Western desert or the timeless savagery that populates the landscape in the novels of Cormac McCarthy. For Carlson, it is the spaces between notes that are where his songs truly exist, and the notes that we hear are only the outward manifestations of this inaudible music: As he returned to prominence in 2005, Carlson told Arthur magazine that ‘[T]he small colorations of different genres that are on the surface of the music could be likened to the body, and the drone that is within and behind it all considered the spirit.’ On this album, Earth embarks on an exploration of this universal space; Carlson rejects the distinction between country and metal by embracing the distance between them: ’ I have begun to see music as a continuum — especially the American forms such as blues, country, and jazz — and am situating myself within that continuum instead of apart from it.’ In his poem, Strand concludes: ‘We all have reasons/ for moving./ I move/ to keep things whole.’ Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 invites its listeners into that silent continuum that makes music whole.” [Full Review]

 

 

Kreng
Grimoire

[Miasmah]

 

 

The Caretaker
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

[History Always Favours The Winners]

“…An Empty Bliss can be understood to reconcile the tension between the periodic discordances of Haunted Ballroom and the ambient pleasures of critical darling Persistent Repetition Of Phrases (2008); and this is appropriate inasmuch as the distorted echo, and its fractal persistence across layers of time (from the micro reverb, to the looped phrase, to the macro echo across history as it is marked, or punctuated, by album releases) may be seen as the central thematic of The Caretaker’s aesthetic. Here we have, in the first place, the feedback loop created through the wounding of the studium — loosely, the contextual background — by the punctum — the unintended detail that strikes the observer (we might also conceptualize this relationship as the union of the stylus-as-point with the grooved field of the disc). This in turn is a literalization of the (musical) note as punctum, the way in which the sonic past bleeds into the present, both as dehistoricized field, employed for affective texture, and, paradoxically, as the sharp reminder, the revelation that exactly this aforementioned appropriation is what is taking place — a process that can function only through a self-concealing that is also self-conception. In bringing to light these stillborn-again pleasures, The Caretaker reveals himself to be nothing less than formidably eponymous.” [Full Review]

 

 

James Blake
James Blake

[Atlas/A&M]

“‘Limit to Your Love,’ interestingly enough, proves to be a pretty accurate representation of Blake. There are no other covers, but the record likewise finds the barren maturity of Blake’s voice and lyrics coming to the fore. The damaged R&B influence found only in samples on CMYK is instead fleshed out by Blake’s own vocal cords, sometimes left to flourish in lovely, polyphonic clarity (as on the closing ‘Measurements’), otherwise smothered by Bells Sketch’s shades of digital perversion (opener ‘Unluck’ develops a claustrophobic beat that suggests the canned shake and spray of graffiti). Klavierwerke’s focus on the piano is further expanded, especially in brief and bare stunners like ‘Why Don’t You Call Me’ and ‘Give Me My Month.’ It’s the kind of natural progression from his previous work that one might expect, given what came before it — but considering many great artists take years only to plainly regress, the speed at which he’s evolving makes Blake a very rare specimen indeed.” [Full Review]

 

 

Liturgy
Aesthetica

[Thrill Jockey]

“In addition to further honing their signature moves, Liturgy also explore new territory that pushes them further into the mainstream. They peel back the sheen of shrieking guitar for a pair of bludgeoning, repetitive instrumentals that call to mind a more amped-up Swans. Fox leaps to the forefront of these tracks, trading in lightning-fast snare bursts for a more conventional, kick-heavy groove that perfectly punctuates Hunt-Hendrix’s riffs. In the extended bridge of ‘Generation,’ it’s Fox who drives the song’s progress, shifting, doubling, and revising his rhythm while Hunt-Hendrix and fellow guitarist Bernard Gann gradually refine a simple note pattern for almost two minutes. The second instrumental, ‘Veins of God,’ is a fleet-footed behemoth, lumbering along on leaden guitar figures and a carpet of ecstatic crashes and fills. Both songs are a conscious step outside of black metal that’ll do nothing to shore up cred with the kvlt purists, but taken together, the tracks are two of the most exhilarating musical moments of 2011.” [Full Review]

 

 

Matana Roberts
COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres

[Constellation]

“The album begins with a scorching solo burst of saxophone that recalls the fire music cries of Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and late-period John Coltrane. What follows over the next six minutes of opening track ‘rise’ is a composition that references multiple styles of jazz, then detours into wholly original territory, most notably during Roberts’ theatrical spoken word/half-sung portions. These vocals, featuring Gitanjali Jain alongside Roberts, appear throughout the album, with a narrative that concerns the history of slavery in America and how it continued to affect and inform the lives of African Americans throughout the 20th century. Some sections offer stronger images and impressions than others, while Roberts and Jain’s intertwining vocals often favor ambiguity and emotional resonance over clarity and pedagogy. While I personally tend to shy away from spoken word or vocalese in jazz, these vocals are essential to its success. […] COIN COIN, the first half of a larger politically-charged and personal work, is one of those records you didn’t know you were waiting for, couldn’t expect you wanted or needed to hear. It’s already grabbed the attention of both jazz aficionados and its more casual fans, impressing both in equal fashion. This is complex, life-affirming music that’s both serious and playful, steeped in tradition yet as highly original and forward-thinking as anything you’re likely to hear this year.” [Full Review]

 

 

Grouper
A I A

[Self-Released]

“Adaptation and sampling aren’t uncommon for tape manipulators and pedal pressers, but Grouper’s aesthetics transcend the rhetorical device of shallow recollection often found in music of her ilk. Not only does she induce recognition, but Grouper melds memory and sound to the point at which memory is codified through her sounds. Akin to Schnittke’s ‘polystylism’ — the juxtaposition of past styles against modernity — Harris employs her sources and references as a catalyst for a listener’s cognitive editing, splicing their memories with Grouper’s and injecting herself into their consciousness. And yet, when I detach myself from A I A, I’m left feeling uneasy over the legitimacy of what I’ve found, whether ‘identified’ elements are truly present. The quotations and allusions I was so sure I heard now seem tenuous, not even placeable. Perhaps it’s in these mistaken identities where we can find the essence of A I A. Alien Observer and Dream Loss permit and accentuate their listener’s past, fusing with and wrapping around his/her subjective history. For each person, the resulting resonance is unique, so I do not feel comfortable asserting much about this process for another. But for myself, this sound/synapse transposition is as haunting as it is beautiful — surely Grouper’s best.” [Full Review]

 

 

FORMA
FORMA

[Spectrum Spools]

“A warm wetness pervades much of the album (again, that sense of nature, of clay and soil and rivers; the motorik heartbeat of the earth; the ether’s pulse). But there is also a cold dampness, a chill that comes from the creeping-in of dissonance, the foreboding of sinister resonances around the corner. Roland TR-707 and its smaller sibling Alesis send out assertive drum pad pulses one minute, then stutter and fall the next. An arpeggio is left dangling in the breeze at the mercy of wild beats, while the sound of wind echoes down the corridors of ‘FORMA230.’ The sense of abandonment, of nature’s isolation, is even stronger on the closing ‘FORMA237B,’ where droning synths drag slavishly along to a dominant drumbeat, seemingly wishing, but not being able, to cease their programmed act. It’s a software slump reminiscent of Grandaddy’s ‘Broken Household Appliance National Forest’ or the ‘cybernetic meadow’ that Richard Brautigan dreamed of in his poem ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.’” [Full Review]

  

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